PASADENA, Calif. - A couple who became husband and wife on the "Love Float," a surprise reunion between a returning soldier and his little boy, and a grand marshal famed globally for her chimpanzee research were among the highlights of the 124th Rose Parade on Tuesday.
The parade's spectacular 42 floral floats brightened an otherwise cloudy New Year's morning and boosted the spirits of a chilled crowd estimated at about 700,000 spectators lining the five-mile route.
"The only way that you're going to experience the Rose Parade is to be here in person," said Los Angeles resident Gineen Alcantara-Nakama, who camped out Monday night to save front-row sidewalk spots.
"Growing up, I watched it on television, but it's not the same - the smell, the atmosphere, smelling the flowers as they come down the street. And the energy. It's like being with family all night long."
Spectators rose to a standing ovation when Army Sgt. First Class Eric Pazz, who was riding on the Natural Balance Pet Foods float along with other service members, got off the float and walked over to his surprised wife, Miriam, and 4-year-old son, Eric Jr., who came running out of the stands into the arms of his 32-year-old father.
Miriam Pazz had been told she had won a contest to attend the parade and did not know her husband, who is deployed in Afghanistan, would be there. A native of Clio, Mich., Pazz is a highly decorated soldier who has also served in Iraq. The family, who currently lives in Germany, climbed aboard the float for the rest of the route.
Cheers also went up for a Chesapeake, Va., couple who tied the knot aboard the Farmers Insurance "Love Float."
Gerald Sapienza and Nicole Angelillo were high school classmates who reconnected 10 years later and won the parade wedding over three other couples in a nationwide contest. They received a trip to Pasadena, a wedding gown, tuxedo, rings, marriage license fees, Rose Bowl game tickets and hair and makeup for the bride.
The parade's theme this year was "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" named in honor of the Dr. Seuss book. It served as a fitting slogan for the grand marshal, British primatologist Jane Goodall, who has spent much of her life in Tanzania studying chimpanzees.
Goodall chose conservation as her message for the parade.
"My dream for this New Year's Day is for everyone to think of the places we can all go if we work together to make our world a better place," said Goodall, 78.
"Every journey starts with a step, and I am pleased to see the Tournament of Roses continue to take steps toward not only celebrating beauty and imagination, but also a cleaner environment."
This year's parade also saw the first-ever float entered by the Defense Department.
The $247,000 military float was a replica of the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington to commemorate the veterans from that conflict.
The float that scooped up the parade's grand "Sweepstakes" prize for the most beautiful floral presentation and design was "Dreaming of Paradise" by fruit and vegetable producer Dole.
According to parade rules, every inch of the floats must be covered with flowers or plant material, most of it applied by volunteers in the last weeks of December.
Besides floats, the parade featured 23 marching bands and 21 equestrian units from around the world.